mary walsh as marg delahunty photo by renee pye
Between allegations of Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford, smoking crack cocaine with drug dealers, Stephen Harper being embroiled in scandals that led to Nigel Wright’s resignation and Mike Duffy leaving the Conservative Party with his reputation in shambles, while the Pamela Wallin saga is only just beginning, it seems like Newfoundland’s favourite Political Satirist Princess Mary Walsh (and her alter-ego Marg Delahunty) has her work cut out for her. Indeed, Walsh brings her sharpest wit, delicious irreverence and iconic characters beloved from This Hour Has 22 Minutes to the stage in her one woman show Dancing With Rage, playing as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s Stages Festival until June 4th.
Dancing With Rage is akin to Gilda Radner’s Gilda Radner: Live From New York (1979), as it takes an assortment of characters familiar to audiences from a sketch comedy television show and brings them all together onstage and part of the fun is in watching the performer slide from one into another with great comic dexterity. The show begins with Walsh as Miss Eulalia unleashing a tirade of hard-hitting zingers, most of which are aimed directly at the arses of the motley crew of Canada’s most embarrassing and scandal-laden politicians- much to the delight of the crowd. Of course, one of the reasons that shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes are so successful is that, rather than growing bitter and losing faith, when things in politics reach a new level of absurdity it can be a powerfully cathartic experience to have a satirist like Mary Walsh to encourage you to laugh in the face of your country’s troubles. There was a strong, unifying spirit in the house tonight, a sense of solidarity in the laughter which is a testament to the transformative power of comedy. Walsh’s work often masquerades as silliness, yet it is also an ardent commentary not only on Canadian politics, but also on Canadian culture and the stories that we tell to ourselves about what it means to be Canadian in the 21st Century.
So too is Dancing With Rage silliness concealing much more serious undertones exploring the theme of abandonment and how it can lead to disempowerment, self-loathing and alcoholism. The premise is an insight into the life of Marg Delahunty as she sets out on a quest to find her long-lost love child, finding Dakey Dunn, Connie Bloor and lisping Sister Mary Wanda along the way. It is cartoon machinations at their silliest, but woven in between is a much more sombre story about a little girl who grew up next door to her family in a dysfunctional household of extremes that oscillated between drunken brawls and extreme piety. It is unclear whether this story is meant to be Delahunty’s or Walsh’s, but either way, it becomes clear that Marg, and especially Marg: Princess Warrior, is the disguise of strength and heroics used to empower someone who often feels at her core disenfranchised and insecure. She is the superhero that allows Delahunty to be bold and saucy and successful, despite all odds against her. Many critics of this show lamented that there was not enough Walsh here, despite the fact that she permeates and resonates so loudly in every line. Mary Walsh also uses her characters like a shield, yet her vulnerability still manages to shine through. The play is an exploration of how actors use performance as a means to shroud themselves behind the essence of someone else and how laughter can be used as a supplement for anger and for pain. It is about coming toward a catharsis of spirit, but not yet achieving one. It is much more powerful to see how Walsh accomplishes this through her portrayal of Marg than it would be for her to reveal herself to us candidly.
I do think Dancing With Rage could be streamlined down to 90 minutes, as some of the descriptions of the story of the little girl bogged the pacing of the play down a little (although Walsh’s writing in these bits is eloquent and beautiful). I also would have liked to see a bit more crisp physical differences between Marg and her daughter Lorraine. Andy Jones directs the piece, making fun use of projected video footage, especially when Dakey and Marg are in the car together and Walsh is able to have a scene with herself onstage. Jones makes the Fountain Hall stage seem very intimate and keeps Walsh moving to different realms of the theatre to keep the action perpetually pressing forward, which is especially important once Marg embarks on her zany quest. I particularly enjoyed his use of a chair on wheels with a steering wheel for Dakey’s cab. Yet, it is Walsh herself who keeps the audience in the palm of her hand, even through small technical glitches; her command of the space and her performance is full of bold sauciness, warmth and charm.
Whether we are examining the fictional life of Marg Delahunty or the real life of Mary Walsh the question can be the same: What makes a woman grow up to ambush politicians for laughs? Both Walsh and Delahunty can be seen as feminist superheroes and both have imperfect pasts that make them unmistakably human. Dancing With Rage is just a glimpse into the answer, but it is both fascinating, hilarious and unexpectedly poignant.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, whater ya waitin’ fer, b’y? Get them tickets now before yer after forgettin’ about them.
Dancing With Rage written and performed by Mary Walsh and directed by Andy Jones plays at Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall (1593 Argyle Street) as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s Stages Festival. For more information about Dancing With Rage and all the other great shows on stage as part of this festival and to book your tickets, please visit this website or visit in person at 1593 Argyle Street or call 902.429.7070. Tickets for Dancing With Rage are $45.00 all other full length shows are $20 or 2 tickets for $30.
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